Should You Rent A Vacation Home?

A soft breeze dances through your hair, bringing with them the briny scent of the sea. Echos of crashing waves mix with the songs of seagulls as you dig your toes deep into warm sand digging for that cool spot beneath. There is nothing like beach life. If you’re planning this year’s escape to the shore, you should be thinking about renting a beach house.

Yes, I am advocating turning your back on turn-down service, giving up housekeeping and traveling concierge free.

I’ll give you a moment to get over the shock.

Wild Horses of the Outer Banks -Renting vs Hotels - Beachfront Stays

When the suggestion of renting a beach house in lieu of hotel was first made I scoffed, openly. My memory of rented beach houses involved condos packed in like sardines along the California coastline, and inhabited by Frat Boys, drunken twenty-somethings, and transplanted surfers. Nope, I was sticking to Egyptian cotton sheets and room service, thank-you-very-much.

Then I started to do a little research. As it turns out there are plenty of perks to beach house rentals:

  • There aren’t many hotels that offer on the beach (not just beachfront) properties. Renting a home can give you “total access” that is well worth the price tag.
  • Should you have more than the ‘standard’ 2.5 offspring, like I do, the cost of beach house rental can actually work out to less than the cost of a hotel.
  • There is something relaxing about having a kitchen to cook in, rather than eating out for every meal.
  • You can save money by having meals at home. (see above)
  • If you shop right, there won’t be a Frat Boy in site!

You do have to do some leg work though. We started renting beach houses four years ago. Resources are leaps and bounds above where they were then. Sites like Airbnb, Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO), FilpKey, and HomeAway make finding the right house both easier, and not. You really have to know what you’re looking for when you wade into these waters.

Consider This…

How close is the beach? If you have to schlep your kids and gear a mile to get to the sunny shore, you might want to reconsider.

Is the beach access public or private? Public beaches tend to be more crowded, but also have several points of access to the shore. Private beaches can be less crowded, yet can also be harder to get to.

 Lifeguard on duty? Be sure to check with your rental company to see if your beach has Lifeguard service. If it does not, be sure to have a plan for water emergencies.

How do you access your beach house? See “Know The Road” below for why this is an important consideration.

Be sure about the type of beach you are visiting. More info below.

Get a detailed outline of what amenities are included in your rental. Do you need to bring towels, kitchen utensils, laundry items, toiletries? Where is the closest place to restock, if you need to?

What other activities are available beyond the beach?

Get to “know” who you’re renting from. There are a lot of large rental companies that offer amenity-packed, “tracked” homes which could be a perfect fit for you, or not. There are also tons of independent homeowners and smaller rental companies that offer more personal service. Know who and what you’re dealing with.

Don’t see photos that show you want you want but you really like the ones you see? Ask for more. We failed to do this with last year’s rental and ended up with a “beach” that was really just a corner of sand off the retaining wall of the property. The owner was a Real Estate broker skilled in using adjectives to disguise the shortcomings.

Know The Road

This applies mostly to beaches on the East Coast of the United States. I don’t recall beaches in on the West Coast or in my travels in Europe, where you could drive on the beach. There are hundreds of properties in North Carolina alone that are accessible only by four-wheel drive vehicles.

Lesson 1: Four Wheel Drive (4WD) and All Wheel Drive are not the same.

Lesson 2: When the sign says “Only Four Wheel Drive Vehicles Beyond This Point”, pay attention. It isn’t a suggestion. When staying at a 4WD accessible home, we personally helped a couple push their Prius out of the sand. Each day brought a new crop of cars stuck in the sand. The cost of having your car towed back to the road can be upwards of $250.  

Lesson 3: Bring quarters and a tire gauge. You’ll need to air-down (let air out of) your tires before hitting the beach. When you come back to the paved road you’ll need to put that air back, facilitating the need for quarters at the air pump and a gauge to make sure you get it right.  

Be Sure About The Beach

As I mentioned above, doing your research can help you avoid getting stuck in a corner (literally) One summer we rented a gorgeous home in Plymouth, Massachusetts. The beach was beautiful but brutal. The shore was rocky to the point of being nearly impossible to traverse, the ocean floor – even worse. This was a shock for us, and for our feet which were not protected with water shoes.  Be sure to ask the rental owner about the condition, size, and location of the beach relative to the home.  

Read The Fine Print

Rental homes come with contracts, most written by legal types who love to play the word game. You know, the one that makes you go cross-eyed and sign just to get away from the monotonous gobbledygook. Force yourself to… Read. It. All. Then ask questions about anything you don’t understand. Never send cash or a check – ever. If the owner isn’t willing to take the hit on the measly credit card fees, that should be a red flag.   


Take Pictures

Not just great shots of the sun rising out of the waves, or the kids lounging on the deck. Take photos of every room when you arrive. Make sure they are time/date stamped (any smartphone has this option) and do the same when you leave. We’ve only had one property take anything from the security and cleaning deposit. We were charged for a broken fixture that wasn’t broken when we left. Oddly enough, this was the same property with the bite-sized beach.

Yes, there is a lot to consider when renting a vacation property. That said, of all the travel we do – and we DO – rental homes from the beach to Tuscany, have been among some of our favorite stays.

photo credit: Podere Salicotto
photo credit: Podere Salicotto

Oh, did I just drop Tuscany on ya? Stay tuned for tips on renting villas and townhomes in Europe!

6 thoughts on “Should You Rent A Vacation Home?”

  1. Renting a home on the beach can be so much fun and it is imperative you do your homework to make sure you are in a good location for a good price. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You’re right about nothing being like beach life. You also have a good point about relaxing in a kitchen that’s nearby instead of stepping out every time you’re hungry.

  3. I find it awesome that you mentioned that renting a vacation home will cost less compared to a hotel when traveling with family. Learning about this convinced me to find a cabin rental for my cousin before she goes on her family on her spring break trip in the mountains. That way, she and her family can bond with nature while having a safe place to sleep at night.

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